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The Hutton report

Lord Hutton has published his much-awaited investigation into the circumstances surrounding the death of Dr David Kelly. 

LSE academics are being asked to comment on the implications of the report. Some commentators give their initial views below. This webpage will be updated over the next few days as any developments occur.

Article by Professor Conor Gearty|, Rausing director of the Centre for the Study of Human Rights, LSE
London Review of Books, Vol 26, No 4 0 online A Misreading of the Law: Why didn't Campbell sue?|

On the implications for Tony Blair:

Professor Patrick Dunleavy, Professor of Political Science, Government Department, said: 'The view taken by Lord Hutton and summarised in Chapter 12 of his report is just about the most favourable interpretation from the point of view of the government and the prime minister that could conceivably be taken by anyone (except possibly Alastair Campbell himself). Lord Hutton's report in this respect amply confirms the normal "establishment" expectation of the attitudes that a UK senior judge might be expected to exhibit when given a brief of this kind. It is clear from the style, phrasing and approach that the government had placed this mission in a "safe pair of hands" from their point of view.

'Will Lord Hutton's view carry a great deal of weight with public opinion? I would not expect it to do so for two reasons. First, the Hutton report seems so much at a limit of what could be said that it lends itself to characterisation as a complete whitewash. Second, the basic facts underlying the whole row between the government and the BBC have essentially confirmed the erroneous nature of the government's WMD intelligence and the extraordinary inaccuracy of the government's published dossier. Lord Hutton treats this as incidental to his brief, something which for many people will not seem an entirely rational thing to do.

'Thus I expect that Hutton will be influential in official, Labour party and Parliamentary circles, in damping down some criticisms of Blair and lending weight to media critics of the BBC. But at the court of public opinion, I do not see it as likely to be influential.'

On the implications for the BBC, the media and politics:

Dr Margaret Scammell, Senior Lecturer in Media and Communication, said: 'Lord Hutton's inquiry and his report may well be a seminal moment requiring a cool, reflective and non-partisan re-think of the state of relations between politicians and journalists. The impasse in which many journalists seem to assume routinely that 'the bastards are lying to us' to paraphrase Jeremy Paxman's famous quote, while politicians see media as a public relations outlet, has short-changed the public. It would do no harm if both parties seized this opportunity to consider the public interest, for once.

'BBC chairman Gavyn Davies has resigned - but in my view not in complete disgrace. The wider context of considerable political pressure on the BBC and their reporting in the months preceding and during the war is itself a hugely important factor, which is mentioned by Hutton but given fairly slight consideration. The BBC is not only our public broadcaster but now our dominant broadcaster by some distance in the domestic scene. Its independence from government is vital for public trust. It should not only be independent but be seen to be so, and recognised as such by all political parties and the public at large. Davies and the governor's first instinct, to protect the BBC from public pressure was exactly the right one.

'This leads a broader point - how is independence to be asserted in such highly charged circumstances? Hutton distinguishes here between the general and the particular: the general need to protect the BBC and the integrity of its management and the specifics of Alastair Campbell's complaints on this particular story. Hutton found here that the system for checking complaints was defective, certainly in this instance. The BBC has acknowledged faults - and there does appear to be a strong case prima facie for processes of media accountability to be made more transparent. The possibility of specific complaints being investigated by an independent regulator (perhaps OfCom) would have had clear benefits in the case: enabled the separation of the particular details of the story from the general need to protect the BBC's independence.'

On the implications for UK foreign policy:

Professor Christopher Hill, Montague Burton Professor of International Relations, said: 'So far as British foreign policy is concerned, the prime minister emerges unhandicapped in his dealings with other states - but abroad this has always seemed a much less significant matter than it did in the UK, and most foreign leaders would have been amazed had Mr Blair fallen as a result.

'Of a much higher profile are the issues to do with the reasons for going to war, which Lord Hutton decided were beyond his remit, and these will continue to be the subject of much speculation, debate and investigation. Once the immediate furore has died down there may well also be a consensus inside the UK itself about the need to think hard about the relationship between intelligence, the foreign policy-making process and public relations. Despite Lord Hutton's findings, it is difficult to argue that the system worked as efficiently as it should have done, and on the basis of clear lines of responsibility.'


28 January 2004